“Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling you and me to do it.” — Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
Redeeming civilizations is the original Christian mission. Our Lord made us partners on the redemption of the world and that is one task we cannot avoid, it is our duty to be the “salt of the earth” and help to preserve the human race until our final destiny is completely revealed. St Paul comes to mind once again as one of the men that God used to redeem and convert the Roman world. Before the Christians could finish the task of converting the Empire, the barbarians invaded Rome for the first time. In fact that invasion triggered the writing of St Augustine’s City of God. As a Roman citizen Augustine could see that the days of the old pagan empire were over. Yet here and now are place and time where human history happens, the very place where our souls must choose between the glories of eternal life or the horrors of eternal damnation is this planet, now far from being the garden of delights that God intended it to be from the beginning. It is a terrible place we have been asked to redeem, the same place God is referring to in Psalm 110:
“Go ruling in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power”
The pagan version of the Roman Empire did not survive long after the death of St Augustine. Rome was transformed, it was turned into Christendom. The pagan barbarians that destroyed Rome were converted, many of them took Roman names and began to consider themselves Romans. One of those was a Visigoth, a man called Pelayo, the Spanish language version of the Latin name Pelagius. He founded the Kingdom of Asturias, in 718 a.D. wrestling it from the Muslims that had virtually conquered most of Spain. Muslims remained in Spain until the days of Queen Isabella, called “la católica” in account of her strong Catholic faith. The reconquest of the Iberian peninsula roughly starts at the time when Pelayo defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Covadonga, until the year 1492 when Queen Isabella expelled the last of the Moors. It took the best part of eight centuries but the Christians were able to defeat the occupying forces and redeem the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. That was the world Columbus left behind when he “sailed the ocean blue” to discover a whole new world for his Queen, and for his Lord Jesus Christ. A new world was the blessing that Spain got in payment for eight centuries of fighting the Moors. A few decades later, Don Juan de Austria, a grandson of Queen Isabella, defeated the Ottoman fleet in Lepanto the 7th day of October of 1571. During that battle, Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria kept a copy of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, given to him by King Philip II of Spain in his command room. The image was a faithful copy of the miraculous tilma given by the Virgin Mary to San Juan Diego in December 1531.
The fact that the image of the Virgin as a Mexican Nahuatl princess, was present half a world away in such a crucial battle for the survival of Christian Europe, should move us to reflection. The Christian fleet won benefited by a miraculous change of wind. What was that image from the Americas doing in Europe kept as the banner of the Christian fleet?
The story of Guadalupe begins in 1519 with the conquest of the Aztec Empire. During the fight to recover the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims, the Spanish armies of the Reconquista developed a number of very effective military methods. Those same methods were applied to the subjugation of the Caribbean and in further expeditions to Mexico, Peru, and other territories. Once the Spaniards established themselves in Cuba they prepared an expedition to initiate the conquest of Mexico. The command of the expeditionary forces was given to Hernando de Cortés who arrived in Mexico on Good Friday, 1519. The campaign extended until August 13, 1521, when a combined army of Spanish and native forces captured Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire.
Before the arrival of Cortez, Mexico was ruled by a ruthless coalition called the Triple Alliance, established during the preceding century. Most of what we know today as Mexico was then ruled with an iron fist by the Emperor of the Aztecs. The weaker, more peaceful, surrounding kingdoms were forced to send their own men and women to Tenochtitlan to serve as human sacrifices to the Aztecs gods. Ritual cannibalism was part of those sacrifices. It is very likely that a young Juan Diego witnessed some of those horrible ceremonies. Not being part of the ruling tribes, Juan Diego could have been easily sacrificed to the Aztec idols himself. The arrival of the Spaniards and the abolition of the Aztec religion meant salvation for many humble men and women like him.
So, where is the connection to the problems we are experiencing now? Before we answer that question we need to go back to that quote at the top: “Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once.” Yes and more than once, the Roman Empire was converted, Spain and Portugal were reconquered, and Mexico was also recovered for the meek and humble people suffering under the cruel yoke of the Aztecs. Few if any would think that we should go back to the awful practices of the Roman circus. I don’t think there are many Spaniards of Portuguese who would rather have their countries turned into something like Syria or Iraq. Who of the many millions now living in Mexico would prefer to go back to cannibalism or human sacrifices? Not many, I hope.
Those three cases of reconquest and redemption coming almost one after the other in Christian history are a good proof, that Christian men of faith can rise above the most difficult circumstances.
I already mentioned some of the present problems facing the United States. Let us go back and try to find what is causing those problems but before we do that let us agree that the country has serious problems. Half a century ago, when the US emerged as a world power after two world wars, it was almost universally agreed the the US was a Christian country. Only very recently Barack Obama declared matter-of-factly “We do not consider ourselves a Christian country.” What moves a man in such position to deny the cradle faith of Western Civilization? Although there are some out there that minimize the influence of Christianity in Western Civilization, it seems obvious to me that the pagan culture was already dying when Christians began their work of converting the Roman Empire. Christian ideas and organization gave Europeans the edge over their competitors.
There is undeniable historical evidence for my argument. A good part of Islam occupies now what were Roman territories until about the 6th century. The rest of the Roman world remained occupied by Christians and we can trace the origins of Western Civilization to those countries. Today even successful Islamic countries owe their prosperity to commerce, and the adoption of devices and tools that come from one and only one wellspring: the genius of the West. Hospitals, orphanages, convents, monasteries, breweries, and so many other different things appeared for the first time in the Christian territories of the old empire, while all forms of vile oppression plague Islam to this day.
Yet the Christian beliefs appear to be retreating in the very countries where so many innovations, so much creativity was unleashed by the faith. In my opinion, the cause of the decline can be found in Christianity itself. Roughly at the time when Cortez was conquering Mexico, a German monk named Luther was beginning a rebellion, the German Reformation. That is known today as the Western Schism.
We could write volumes about this but I prefer to reduce the consequences of the last five centuries of Protestant Reformation as follows: the reformers set a dangerous precedent when they decided to get rid of the spiritual paternity and authority of the Roman Pope. First the nobility thought that if one could get rid of the Pope, one could also get rid of the King. In time the bourgeoisie thought convenient to toss away the nobility also, and eventually the lower classes in the post French Revolution world, thought it was a good idea to get rid of all of them, and also eliminate religion altogether. That is one way to describe the arrival of 19th century Liberalism, a movement that includes what we know presently as the Left, the Right, the Conservatives, and the Progressives. To conclude: Liberal Capitalism, Fascism, Communism, Socialism, Progressivism, Anarchism, and many other “isms” are the unintended offspring of the Reformation.
Today we face again the task of transforming the world. Two major obstacles are before us, the first are the forces of Liberalism that have even invaded the Church. Then there is the old heresy of Mohammedanism. The first corrupts the world with the excuse of progressive policies, the second is definitely a form of regressive malignancy.
To defeat them we have to do the same that the heroes of Lepanto did in 1571. Lift the banner of Mary of Nazareth, pray the Holy Rosary, clean up the house of God of any trace of the progressive infirmity. When the Church is redeemed from its current afflictions, the whole world shall follow.
Read carefully the following words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego and discern the parable offered to us at this time in History. San Juan Diego was a witness to the collapse of the murderous Aztec order. It seemed like the end of the world for Mexico but it was not. In fact it was the beginning of a glorious new era. San Juan Diego was on his way to get a priest to give the Holy Sacraments to his uncle, who was gravely ill. Then Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him. The same Virgin Mary that have helped Pelayo at Covandonga, the same Lady whom Queen Isabella served with devotion, the very same advocation of Our Lady that protected Columbus when he wrecked at the island of Guadeloupe… the same Queen of Heaven who would change the wind at the Battle of Lepanto many years later.
“Know, know for sure, my dearest, littlest, and youngest son, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth. I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings. And to bring about what my compassionate and merciful concern is trying to achieve, you must go to the residence of the Bishop of Mexico and tell him that I sent you here to show him how strongly I wish him to build me a temple here on the plain; you will report to him exactly all you have seen, admired and what you have heard. Know for sure I will appreciate it very much, be grateful and will reward you. And you? You will deserve very much the reward I will give you for your fatigue, the work and trouble that my mission will cause you. Now my dearest son, you have heard my breath, my word; go now and put forth your best effort.”
Let us do just that: let us put forth our best effort. Help is on the way.